Claimant, an inmate at the time he incurred his injuries and who is proceeding
pro se, seeks damages from defendant State of New York (defendant) for injuries
sustained when he fell leaving a bathroom in the recreational yard at Woodbourne
Correctional Facility (Woodbourne). Trial of this claim was held on September
9, 2008 in the Binghamton District.
Claimant testified that at approximately 1:25 p.m. on April 16, 2005, he had
entered the bathroom in a recreational yard at Woodbourne to get some water.
Upon exiting the bathroom, he stepped into a hole in front of the bathroom door
and fell on his face. Claimant is legally blind in his left eye, and severely
vision-impaired in his right eye.
Claimant said that Woodbourne is a correctional facility for inmates with
physical handicaps. He stated he had repeatedly complained about
to Tim Terbush, the
Supervisor of the Inmate Grievance Program at Woodbourne prior to his fall.
Claimant said he tried to act as an advocate for the handicapped people at the
facility. He also stated that other inmates had fallen in this hole before he
Claimant acknowledged that he was given certain accommodations for his
disability at the facility, including preferred seating in the classroom, books
on tape, a magnifying glass, and a cassette player. He was given a
“mobility assistant” for a short time when he first entered the
facility, whose duties included telling him when stairs were imminent, and
warning him of potholes. However, claimant said, the assistant did not fulfill
Exhibits submitted into evidence at trial included a memorandum from the
facility’s maintenance supervisor to Terbush indicating that an inspection
of the site where claimant fell, conducted three days after the fall, showed
that the pavement at that location was uneven (Defendant’s Exhibit E). A
maintenance work order request prepared in response to that inspection contains
the notation “[p]lease fill in sink hole in front of inmate
bathroom,” as well as “fill-in [sic] depression to eliminate trip
hazzard [sic]” (id.).
Claimant testified that he chipped one of his front top teeth, and had
abrasions on his face, left arm and shoulder, and right hand. He submitted a
picture of his injuries into evidence (Claimant’s Exhibit 6), and copies
of his medical records pertaining to the incident were also submitted
(Defendant’s Exhibit D). Claimant said that the facility’s dentist
“shaved” his tooth, and told him that it would have to be done
repeatedly, because it would keep chipping. The medical records indicate that
his abrasions were treated by the facility’s medical personnel, and that
he was advised to take Tylenol. The records do not indicate that any further
treatment was necessary for these injuries. Pictures of the recreational yard
were also submitted, which showed the area where he fell (Defendant’s
Exhibits B and C). However, those pictures were taken after the repairs were
Ross Turner, Fire and Safety Officer at Woodbourne, testified on
defendant’s behalf. He acknowledged that the pavement where claimant fell
had been patched shortly after claimant’s fall, but said that he did not
see the depth of the hole prior to its repair. Nicholas Chalk, a supervising
corrections counselor at Woodbourne also testified. He confirmed
claimant’s testimony that Woodbourne is a unique facility due to the
concentration of disabled inmates. He further stated that claimant was assessed
when he entered the facility, and “was found capable of navigating his way
throughout the prison.”
It is by now well established that the State has a duty to maintain its
facilities in a reasonably safe condition (Preston v State of New York,
59 NY2d 997 ), and with respect to the safety of persons on its property,
the duty of the State is one of reasonable care under the circumstances
(see Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506, 513 ;
Preston v State of New York, supra; Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233,
241 ). However, the State is not an insurer of the safety of its inmates,
and negligence cannot be inferred solely from the occurrence of an accident
(see Killeen v State of New York, 66 NY2d 850 ; Condon v State
of New York, 193 AD2d 874 ).
To prevail on his claim, claimant must prove, by a preponderance of the
credible evidence, that a dangerous condition existed; that the State either
created said dangerous condition or had actual or constructive notice thereof
and failed to alleviate said condition within a reasonable time; that said
dangerous condition was a proximate cause of the accident; and that claimant
sustained damages (see Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67
NY2d 836 ; Mercer v City of New York, 223 AD2d 688 ,
affd 88 NY2d 955 ). In order to constitute constructive notice, a
defect must be visible and apparent, and must exist for a sufficient length of
time prior to the accident to permit the defendant to discover and remedy it
(Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, supra at 837).
Claimant has proven by a preponderance of the credible evidence that a
dangerous condition existed, based on his uncontroverted, credible testimony
that the pothole existed, particularly when combined with the repair records.
Claimant’s testimony that he had previously advised the Inmate Grievance
Program Supervisor about the condition of the pavement was sufficient to
establish that defendant had notice of the condition prior to claimant’s
accident. Because of Woodbourne’s status as a facility for disabled
inmates such as claimant, it was reasonably foreseeable that an inmate might be
injured when encountering such a condition, and defendant had a duty to remedy
that condition. Finally, the issue of proximate cause does not appear to be in
issue. The Court finds defendant 100% liable for claimant’s injuries, as
there was no evidence of comparative negligence.
Claimant’s injuries were minor and of concededly brief duration.
Claimant did display the chipped tooth at trial, which had been smoothed down by
the facility’s dentist, but which had chipped again. Claimant did not
testify that the injury to the tooth caused him any pain, either at the time of
the fall or at present. Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that an award
of $1,200 is appropriate recompense for claimant’s injuries. To the
extent that claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to
Court of Claims Act § 11-a (2).
Let judgment be entered accordingly.